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#WineStudio Session XII: Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties

The wines discussed in this article were provided as samples by Rudi Wiest Selections.

I remember talking with my good friend Stefano of Clicks and Corks sometime earlier this year, and we were talking about blogging and samples we sometimes receive. He was astonished that I did not seem to get as many samples as he receives (he blogs mostly about Italian wines), and I had to inform him that there are simply not that many distributors of scale that carry German wines: Rudi Wiest and Terry Theise being the two big ones, with several smaller importers like vom Boden filling in the niches. I told him I wish I could get to try some of Rudi Wiest of Terry Theise’s portfolio, but that it was unlikely, being rather far away from the bigger markets.

Imagine my surprise and happiness when I was approached by Tina Morey of Protocol Wines, the host of #WineStudio and #WineChat, informational weekly wine chats on Twitter, asking whether I was interested in participating in the #WineStudio they were organizing in cooperation with Rudi Wiest Selections to highlight some lesser known varieties from Germany!! I happily obliged. If you’re into German wine, it is hard not to have had wines that Rudi Wiest imports. Their list is not very extensive, but they boast some of the best producers in Germany.

#WineStudio is Protocol Wines’ wine education program in which wineries and distributors get a chance to provide a deeper look into what they or their area is doing wine-wise. The discussions are a lot of fun, I have to say, so it is usually worth checking out even if you don’t have the wines to try along.

While Germany doesn’t have the grape variety that Portugal or Italy or Greece have, there are still a bunch of grapes that are not really well known abroad but drunk by a significant number of Germans. This was our chance to explore these more.

We tried and discussed a total six wines over the course of four weeks, and in my book this was hands down the best #WineStudio event yet. I guess my predisposition for German wines and some background knowledge made this a really great exercise. Let me tell you about the wines, because they pretty drinkable! Also, they were all dry wines and I get many questions about which dry wines from Germany I can recommend, so this is a good list.

Schloss Hallburg Silvaner and Wirsching Scheurebe

Schloss Hallburg Silvaner and Wirsching Scheurebe

We started with a 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry and the 2012 Hans Wirsching Iphöfer Scheurebe Kabinett Dry, both from Northern Bavaria’s region Franconia (Franken). Silvaner, a cross between Traminer and Österreichisch-Weiss (literally “Austrian White”), rules in Franken. I have heard frequently that Silvaner is the grape for people that cannot deal with the acidity in Riesling but like Riesling aromatics, and it is widely used in Germany as a very food friendly wine. Scheurebe was created in 1916 by Mr Scheu by crossing Riesling with an unknown wild variety and is considered highly aromatic.

The 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry (12.5% ABV) was quite expressive in the nose, with tons of peach aromas, with melon and pear and some baked apple complementing the picture. On the palate, the wine showed hints of coconut, good balance, and a certain creaminess. I was missing some acidity, but that is just something I want in my whites, and 2011 wasn’t kind to those loving acidity…All in all a tasty wine that should be great with sushi from what I heard from others.

The 2012 Hans Wirsching Iphöfer Scheurebe Kabinett Dry (pronounced Shoy-ray-buh, 12.5% ABV) weirdly reminded me of a Gewürztraminer in the nose: I got lychee, papaya, then some grapefruit and lime. Intensive, intensive nose. Couldn’t stop smelling. On the palate, the wine showed a nicely tickly mineralitywith a light mouthfeel. The lychee persisted, with pineapple coming to the mix, what an interesting wine. I knew Scheurebe as a rather boring wine from my early youth, usually way too sweet and gooey, but this one had a great dry finish, and still brought out all those amazing aromatics….if you want to surprise friends, this would be a good choice, also for the bottle shape, which is the typical bottle in Franken called Bocksbeutel (which means “goat’s scrotum”), makes for a conversation starter…

Rebholz Pinot Blanc and Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris

Rebholz Pinot Blanc and Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris

The following week, we tried the 2012 Rebholz Pinot Blanc Dry from the Pfalz (Palatinate) and the 2012 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris from Franken. In German these grapes are known as Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot gris), and I have had good experiences with the two grapes in the past when they don’t make an appearance as a bland Pinot grigio or Pinot bianco. In Germany, these wines tend to be fruitier, which I appreciate…

The Rebholz Pinot Blanc (13.5% ABV) had a fresh nose with stone fruit, pear and melon as well as hints of vanilla (I doubt it saw any wood in the production process, though). On the palate, the wine was warming yet crisp, with coconut, liquorice, lychee and pear aromas. There was a good balance in the wine, despite the significant alcohol it still felt light-footed and had good length. The wine was made from mostly 70 year old vines, which is pretty impressive for an entry level wine. I liked this expression of the grape.

The Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris (12.5% ABV), in contrast, was much more subdued on the nose. I got lemon, apples, almonds, and in general the aromas seemed more ripe than in the Pinot Blanc. The wine had a great mouthfeel to it, it was deep and drawing me in, with good heft and good acidity. The aromas I mostly got were peaches and melon paired with nice creaminess. This wine was rich, and yet remained refreshing. The interesting thing was that it felt heavier than the Pinot Blanc, despite having significantly less alcohol.

Becker Pinot Noir and Schnaitmann Lemberger

Becker Pinot Noir and Schnaitmann Lemberger (weird labels, huh?)

The final week was dedicated to two red wines: A 2011 Becker Pinot Noir Dry (from the Pfalz) and a 2011 Schnaitmann Lemberger Dry (from Württemberg). Germany has actually been making great strides in producing Pinot noir (also known as Spätburgunder in Germany), and it is always exciting trying more of these. Lemberger is prominent grape in the Southern-most parts of Germany.

The Becker Pinot Noir (13.5% ABV) poured in a surprisingly dark cherry red. I loved its nose, which was full of gummibear aromas (open a bag and stick your nose in, it’s divine!) and cooked cherries. On the palate, it was initially soft and pleasing, with good acidity. Then, it became spicy, with tons of cassis and red currant aromas, some branchiness with was welcome, and some smoke. The currant aromas persisted throughout the finish, and that made me like the wine. It might have been a bit rough around the edges, and there were some bitter aromas in the finish, but overall a decent wine.

The Schnaitmann Lemberger (13% ABV) poured as dark as a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and its nose was full of flowers, raspberries and blackberries. What a great way to end a night! On the palate, very fruity, with strawberry and raspberry and all-spice and good vanilla aromas that gave it body. This was really, really tasty. As in want more of this right away tasty and the rather low alcohol ensures you won’t be in trouble for it. It remained refreshing all throughout, and this was Nina’s favorite of all the wines by an arms length…

All in all? It’s seriously worth trying other grapes from Germany. Will that replace my love for Riesling? Nope. Will I ever think as highly of a white grape as I do of Riesling? Nope. But the wine universe is full of interesting grapes that make for good switch ups when you want to expand your palate. Always worth it. And, if you’re on track for the Wine Century Club, some of these grapes will surely help you cross the finish line and you won’t suffer for it! :)

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An Eiswein (Ice wine) themed #winechat on Twitter

The three dessert wines participating

The three dessert wines participating

Disclaimer: The wines were provided by the winery or wine association as samples.

Last week, I participated in a #winechat on Twitter. The theme was Eiswein (and dessert wine). The wines were supplied by Knapp Winery and Boundary Breaks Vineyards of the New York Finger Lakes region, and by the Austrian Wine representatives in the US. At 9pm EST on Wednesday, a group of several bloggers who received samples met with the organizers Protocol Wine Studio, the suppliers, winemakers and others interested folks to discuss the wines as well as ice wine in general.

For those unfamiliar with Eiswein (the German word for Ice wine), I wrote a longer piece about it a while back so please feel free to check it out here. To recap: Eiswein is made from grapes that are frozen on the vine (that’s for purists, like me, some regions, like Quebec, allow freezing off the vine). The grapes freeze, so all the water in the grape becomes ice. When you press these grapes, all you get is minuscule quantities of pure concentrated flavors. Sugar and acidity are extremely present in these wines. They make for some of the rarest wines in the world, and age ridiculously well.

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

We had a few friends over for trying the wines, because of their intensity, I usually only want a small glass of each wine. It is the perfect wine to share. We paired the wines with mostly cured meats from the wonderful Ann Arbor sausage shop Biercamp (duck bacon, Canadian bacon, and a honey/cracked pepper bacon as well as Andouille sausage), cheese (a creamy Delice de Bourgogne, Manchego, goat Parmiggiano, and Roquefort), as well as homemade (by one of our insanely talented baker friends) sweet macarons. I will write a separate post on what to pair with sweet wines, but for now you should know I prefer salty over sweet pairings.

Macaron made by our friend

Macaron made by our friend

But on to the wines. Up first was the 2012 Boundary Break Late Harvest Riesling (not technically an Ice wine). The wine is made by a young winery whose other Rieslings have gathered quite some praise from The New York Times and others. This wine was made with Riesling grapes from one single clone that come from a single vineyard. The vines were planted in 2010, so they were very, very young when the grapes were harvested for this wine. In Germany, winemakers tend to hold off on producing wine from vines that are under 4 years old. The wine had 127 grams of residual sugar per liter, and 14.2% ABV. The first thing we noticed when pouring was how light in color the wine was. The nose offered aromas of ripe cantaloupe, cream, honey, some vanilla, and something the reminded of gummy bears. On the palate, it was very sweet without much acidity, which was what surprised me the most. Its mouthfeel was light, and there were some orange bitter rinds like in English orange jelly. I struggled with this a bit. There was definitely craft in this wine, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the winemakers should have held off on making a small quantity, high level wine from such young vines. It also didn’t feel like a Riesling to most of us. Trying it with the macarons made the wine a bit more acidic, which was welcome. So this could definitely be paired with sweets. Retail price: $30

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Next up: Knapp Winery’s 2012 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. Harvested on January 3, 2012 at 11 degrees Fahrenheit (which by my standards makes it a 2011, because the grapes grew in 2011, not 2012), the wine spent almost a year fermenting slowly until it was bottled on December 20, 2012. 24 cases were produced, the wine has 12% ABV and 140 grams of residual sugar per liter. The wine’s color was more saturated than the Boundary Break Vineyard Riesling. The nose was gorgeous, with ripe aromas of spiced orange, some clove, bergamotte. On the palate, this Vidal Blanc showed good acidity, some smoky aromas, with a wonderful viscose mouthfeel to it. I got citrus aromas, mandarin oranges, and raisins mostly. What I was struggling with was the alcohol. It left an almost cognac feel to the wine on the finish, which I was not looking for in an Eiswein. Others on the table had less of an issue with this, so it might just have been me. When I retried this wine 6 days later, the alcohol had stopped bothering me. All in all, a solid wine with good primary Eiswein aromas. However, texturally it reminded me more of an Auslese or Beerenauslese than an Eiswein. I would probably not have identified it as such in a blind tasting. As for pairings: It worked remarkably well with the creamy delice de Bourgogne, taking off the edge of the alcohol. With the goat parmiggiano, more almondy flavors became present, and the bacons worked as well. While I thought it was also good with the macarons, I got shouted down by the table that that was not the case….Retail price: $25

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Finally, we tried the Austrian 2009 Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein, an Eiswein made from the red grape Pinot noir. The wine poured in a gorgeous amber color, lush and rich and syrupy in texture. The nose was beautiful, with dried apricots, honey, and rum and raisin aromas. When I tried it, my first note read “ICEWINE”, underlined twice. The richness and flavors worked, the wine felt special, just like an Eiswein should. There was a wonderful smokiness to the wines, with the aromas from the nose persisting. Its finish was great: It became smoky again, with lots of honey, and a wonderful acidity that tickled your throat. The wine was decidedly heavier than the first two, and much more intense in flavors. It also paired the best with salty foods. This was a wonderful expression of how interesting ice wine from a red grape can be. Retail price: $69

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

All in all it was a great experience, and I am grateful for the organizers and hosts for letting me participates. The wines were all interesting and showed the diversity there is. The conversation on Twitter was lively and engaged, and I got into some really interesting side discussions about pairings and occasions to drink these wines.

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